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EU: Justice and Home Affairs Council

Volume 693: debated on Wednesday 27 June 2007

The Justice and Home Affairs Council was held on 12 and 13 June 2007 in Luxembourg. The Minister of State at the Home Office (Baroness Scotland), the Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Home Office (Joan Ryan) and I attended on behalf of the UK.

The noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, attended a ministerial dinner on the evening of 11 June, where the German presidency reported on the first meeting of the future group on home affairs, which had met in Eltville, Germany, on 21 May. Over dinner, Ministers discussed the need for the EU to have an effective expulsion policy and the need to protect national security and the human rights of those who pose a threat.

The A-points list was approved and included adoption for rapid border intervention teams (RABITs) regulation, following a general approach in April, and the Ukraine readmission agreement, which was adopted by qualified majority with the UK voting against due to outstanding scrutiny reserves. The integration fund was removed from the A-points list and will go to the Competitiveness Council on 25 June for adoption.

The Council opened with the mixed committee items, which included the second generation Schengen information system (SIS II), SISone4all, the visa information system (VIS), data protection and the regulation on a uniform format for residence permits.

The Council welcomed the progress made on SISone4all and noted that the programme was on schedule. The target of lifting internal borders by December was likely to be reached provided that all the evaluation criteria were met. The Commission reported that the implementation of SIS II remained on target for December 2008 and reiterated that all efforts should be made to ensure that the SISone4all programme does not delay the implementation of SIS II.

There was political agreement on VIS and the presidency hoped for swift implementation. The UK does not participate in the VIS regulation and has been excluded from the accompanying Council decision on law enforcement access to VIS, and therefore did not have a vote on this proposal. The UK did, however, secure a Council declaration that underlines Council support for UK and Ireland access and makes it clear that this issue will be explored further following the outcome of the FRONTEX and passports cases before the European Court of Justice, which deal with the right of the UK and Ireland to participate in measures that build on those elements of Schengen into which we have not opted in. Furthermore, the UK and Ireland made a joint declaration setting out our view of the issue in more detail. The Commission hoped that the new system would be up and running by the first quarter of 2009. The presidency underlined the significance of meeting the commitment made to the European Parliament of reaching political agreement on the data protection framework decision by the end of 2007.

The presidency felt that good progress had been made on the data protection framework decision. The shape of a compromise on the difficult question of scope had been discussed at senior official level. Further discussions will be required. The Council conclusions were agreed.

The presidency noted that good progress had been made on the regulation on a uniform format for residence permits, but concerns remained over minors holding a separate permit. The presidency was hopeful that agreement would be reached soon.

The main agenda items started with Europol. The presidency was pleased with the progress of negotiations to date on the draft Europol Council decision and all member states were content that negotiations on the first chapter had met most concerns. Discussions will now proceed on the next chapters of the text. The presidency recalled the conclusions reached by the Council in December 2006 concerning the financing of Europol and the fact that it remained necessary to clarify the financial consequences of any move to Community financing. The new Council conclusions setting out the remaining issues to be resolved were agreed.

Political agreement was reached on the Prüm Council decision. The presidency anticipated that, by the end of the year, the implementing agreement and operational manual would be finalised to enable new provisions to be implemented swiftly. The Government believe that this proposal represents a practical step forward in cross-border police co-operation that should bring direct, positive results for citizens and help to make the EU more secure.

The Commission gave a presentation on the global approach to migration. The Government noted that further work was needed on the idea of mobility packages and highlighted the need for more consultation and exploration of the policy before commencing talks with third countries.

On the situation at the EU’s southern maritime borders, the presidency highlighted the priority for saving human life and the need for member states to take on a fair share of responsibility and to fulfil their commitments in regard to the FRONTEX toolbox. Practical steps to relieve any burden on southern states would be subject to further discussion.

Most member states welcomed the purpose of the directive on sanctions against employers of illegally staying third-country nationals but questioned the approach taken by the Commission. There remained concerns in the Council about the administrative burden, added value, subsidiarity and proportionality. A number of member states also questioned the inclusion of criminal sanctions in first-pillar measures. This proposal will be taken forward under the incoming Portuguese presidency.

The Commission presented its asylum package, including a Green Paper on the future of asylum, a proposed directive extending long-term residence to asylum and protection cases and an evaluation of the Dublin system. The Government highlighted the success of the Dublin system and the necessity to develop the concept of regional protection and to include protection issues in the global approach on migration.

The Commission underlined that visa waiver reciprocity continued to be a strong political priority, with the matter being pressed with the US and Canada on a regular basis.

The Commission presented the results of the latest round of negotiations with the US on passenger name records. A deal looks likely and the US has accepted the need to reach a binding agreement with a longer data retention period of up to 15 years. All member states support the negotiations.

On the second day of the Council, a general approach was reached on the draft framework decision on criminal records, which the Government welcome.

I informed the Council of the historic creation of the Ministry of Justice and the division of responsibilities with the Home Office and welcomed the opportunities for closer co-operation with EU colleagues.

The Council took stock of progress of negotiations on the draft framework decision on the recognition and supervision of suspended sentences, conditional release and alternative sanctions. There was support for the objectives of this proposal and for the general direction of negotiations. However, the Council was unable to reach a decision on the application of dual criminality at this stage of negotiations. Discussions on the whole proposal will continue at working group level.

Over lunch, the presidency got broad support for a proposal for web-based exchange of information between member states on violent video games, using age limits and in co-operation with industry. The presidency asked for greater exchange of information between the member states on banned games.

The presidency sought agreement on the framework decision on criminal procedural rights, reverting to a text that included within its scope cases wholly within domestic jurisdiction. It asked those member states that opposed such a wide scope to change their positions, noting that all had committed to some action in this field. The proposal tabled remained unacceptable to several member states, including the UK, and we regret that the compromise package discussed at the April JHA Council, comprising EU law covering defined cross-border cases along with a resolution on wide-ranging practical measures that might bring real benefits, was not pursued.

The Council took note of the discussions on the horizontal approach in relation to certain offences, which concluded that it is too early to take a final decision on whether a horizontal approach to definitions of offences is required, and on the progress of negotiations on the directive for the protection of the environment through criminal law.

The Commission presented its communication on cyber-crime. Estonia circulated a paper on recent cyber-attacks.

There was a state of play report on Rome II and the conciliation with the European Parliament was noted.

Council conclusions were adopted on the global approach to migration, integration, violent video games, e-justice and the procedure for handling legislative files containing first-pillar proposals relevant to the development of criminal law policy.